To this day, the place of religion in the life of the State
of Israel remains one of the internal conflicts of Zionism. Most of the
secularists, the spiritual fathers of Zionism, were divided on this issue:
a consensus emerged on "The Jewish character of the State" or
"the integration of religious tradition into national life", but
these were relatively abstract principles which faltered the moment a text
had to be drawn up for independence. Ought there to be a direct reference
to G-d in the text or not?
The Mapai party socialists found it impossible to agree
to something they felt was an attack on their atheistic view of the world,
whereas the representatives of the religious parties insisted on
mentioning the Divine Force. The same obstacle occurred with regard to a
constitution. The Declaration of Independence could not act as a
constitution because, according to the religious elements, only Jewish law
can be the constitution. A compromise was reached in the expression "Rock
of Israel", the term used to refer to G-d in the Declaration of
Conflicts, concessions, compromises... this incident set
the tone for the relationship between religion and the Jewish state.
Ben Gurion's course of action was once again based on
the principle of the sovereignty of the State over the religious
"I want the State to hold religion in its hands,
and not the other way round," he said.
Ben Gurion gave the religious authorities control over
marriage and divorce legislation, inter alia empowering the Rabbinate to
define who is Jewish.
But all this was conditional on this same group of
rabbis recognizing and accepting the supremacy of the state and its
parliament, which is why the National Religious Party has a monopoly in
representing religious interests and institutions in Israel, so that the
Minister for Religious Affairs must be a member of the NRP (Mafdal).
The tension between the religious party's ideals and its
subordination to the state never fails to bring about tricky situations
regarding the cultural, political and halachic question of who is a Jew in
Guide to the different lobbies:
The diagram below represents the state/religion agreement
negotiated by the Labour Party and the National Religious Party on Ben
NB. Ben Gurion chose to negotiate this agreement
after the creation of the state and to include the NRP in the government,
even though his majority was large enough for him to have been able to
manage without them.
His considerations were:
- It meant that the government controlled the country's
- It guaranteed the Jewish nature of the State of
Israel, vis-a-vis the local population and diaspora Jewry.
Party - National Religious Party 'State-Religion Agreement'
- Ministry for Religious Affairs &
nomination of Chief Rabbis
- Law of Return Only Religious Civil Law
- Status Quo guaranteeing Jewish nature of
State - Shabbat, kashrut, etc.
Parties [Liberals, Citizens' Rights Movement
|Want a secular
|Want equal rights for Jewish
and non-Jewish citizens
|Do not recognize the
authority of the Chief Rabbinate & want to impose a way of
life based solely on the Torah
|Do not recognize the State of
Convey the factors behind Ben Gurion's
definition of the place that the Jewish religion holds today in
the State of Israel through a mock trial, and attempt to answer
the following question:
Is Ben Gurion responsible for the current lack
of understanding between religious and secular in Israel?
From the creation of the Jewish state to this day,
the gap between the secular and the religious has not ceased to
1. In spite of the "status quo" that
was reached regarding State observance of certain Jewish laws
(no public transport on Shabbat and holidays; marriages
conducted exclusively by the Rabbinate), some secular Israelis
believe that religion plays too great a role in national life.
Sometimes this ideological confrontation is
accompanied by physical violence, especially among the
ultra-orthodox who justify their opposition even through violence
to anything they feel threatens the integrity of the Torah.
2. The religious public is concerned to
maintain the status quo. Some groups want to increase the say of
Jewish religion in Israeli society, believing that the current
situation grants Judaism only a very minor role.
3. Two cultures have developed; one is
western, humanitarian, without religious motivation but values
tradition; the other rejects some typical Western values,
believes strongly in the "chosenness" of Israel and in
one centrality of the Halakha (Jewish law) in both personal and
4. David Ben Gurion, with his vision of a new
type of Jew, "emancipated from religion", whose
Judaism would be expressed by a national framework, is perhaps
responsible for the "cultural war" within the State,
since his concept of national sovereignty led to state control
of the religious authorities.
Notes on setting and procedure for the trial:
1. It is important to stress staging effects and
to dress the part.
2. The public has a role during the trial:
they can be organized into pressure groups, divided into two
lobbies (for and against the accused). Demonstrations, posters
and "public" reaction will work to create a tense
3. The witnesses aim to make the public
understand the issue at stake, i.e. whether or not Ben Gurion
was responsible for the current climate of feelings between
secular and religious in Israel. Their lawyers should draw up a
list of short simple questions.
4. Distinguished guests can be called as
witnesses, e.g., a shaliach, professors, lawyers. Professional
lawyers could help to draw up the speech for the defense and the
5. Each side can call on two surprise guests
whose names will not be known in advance by the jury/judges.
6. Evidence can be presented in different
ways: a video montage; an audio-visual programme; readings from
Ben Gurion's writings, etc.
7. Below are several personalities who will be
important witnesses at the trial. Some of the names are real,
some fictitious. Find out for yourselves!
1. Rav Hirsch: one of the leaders of the
ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta sect, whose members live in the
Mea Shearim area of Jerusalem. He views the Zionist state as a
catastrophe for the Jewish people in similar dimensions to the
Nazi genocide. He completely rejects the idea of Jewish
secular sovereignty over the Holy Land of Israel, which can
only be governed in accordance with the thousands-year- old
laws of the Torah. The Neturei Karta do not, therefore,
recognize the State of Israel; its members have refused
Israeli citizenship. Rav Hirsch openly proclaims PLO ideas.
6. The Labour Party
2. The leader of the Agudat Israel party is Rav
Avraham Shapira. This party disagrees with Neturei Karta,
in that it agrees to sit in the Knesset with the sole aim of
preserving the rights of the religious within the State of
Israel. The members of Agudat Israel do not recognize the
authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, believing the
State should be governed according to the Torah. Agudat Israel
has set up its own legal institutions to settle issues of
civil status and marriage, putting pressure on the leadership,
and particularly on the National Religious Party, for
legislation of a religious nature, and to alter the status quo
to its advantage.
3. Moshe Ouna was an NRP Knesset
member (MK) in the first six Knessets. A member of Kibbutz Sde
Eliyahu in the Bet Shean valley, he rejects the label given by
many to his party as "Mapai in a skullcap". He
believes that religious Zionism has striven to answer the
challenge of a brand new revolution - the declaration of the
State of Israel. An intellectual and author of several books,
he stresses in his writings the difference between the NRP and
Agudat Israel. But Moshe Ouna does realize that the religious
parties do not have a very good PR image. He holds the Aguda
responsible, saying they "use the State for their own
needs". However, he also accuses the attitude of the
Hapoel Hamizrachi movement, the forerunner of the NRP,
"its political and spiritual leadership did not foresee a
plan for the future".
Moshe Ouna feels that the NRP has lost out
on both counts, attracting the wrath of both Agudat Israel (on
its right) and the Labour Movement (on its left). He holds Ben
Gurion responsible, because of his extreme anti-religious
views. He accuses Mapai of having often supported the
nomination of Rabbis (Bet Din judges) whose views are aligned
with Aguda, knowing these people lack a broader secular
education and oppose the State. Ouna feels that Mapai do this
purely to stir up public animosity towards the religious!
4. Rav Maimon (Fischman) was the
first Minister for Religious Affairs in Israel, head of the
national authority which controls the organization of Jewish
religion and elects the Chief Rabbis. He set out what he saw
as the essence of religious Zionism, as distinct from Aguda's
views. Rav Maimon, moreover, dared to speak of adapting the
Halakha to the life of the new State. One example was his
suggestion to appoint and convene a new Sanhedrin, the Supreme
Rabbinical Court, in the same way it used o sit in Jerusalem
two thousand years ago.
5. The two chief rabbis, Ashkenazi and
Sephardi, play an important part in rabbinical jurisdiction,
since they are de facto presidents of the Rabbinal Supreme
Court. This jurisdiction is of prime importance in the country
because the court has sole authority in certain matters (such
as marriage and divorce). The Chief Rabbis are civil servants
and they also carry out religious administration (e.g., they
grant kashrut certificates). In a way, the Chief Rabbis are,
therefore, the official Jewish-religious presence in the
Yair Harel is one of the left-wing
Zionists who believe that the moral values of Judaism should
be incorporated into Israeli society and that the Hebrew state
needs some Jewish character. Yair Harel, a former member of a
Halutzic movement, feels one does not need to believe in the
coming of the Messiah, nor to pray every day to show one's
love of Judaism. Social justice, equality and peace are, for
him, equally Jewish values. Israel must be a moral light for
all nations. He sees Ben Gurion's solution as one answer to
the problem of relations between religion and state.
7. Shula Sarid is fighting to
establish secular law in Israel, completely separating state
from religion. She does not agree with Ben Gurion's policy,
saying he did not need the religious to ensure a majority.
"Why insist on giving the State of Israel any Jewish
character?" she asks. "To me, being Jewish is being
Hebrew, being native, an awareness of our history... I don't
fast on Yom Kippur because I don't feel it's necessary. The
fast is only important for Jews in the diaspora."
Shula Sarid is campaigning for the
separation of religion and state, and for the institution of
8. Sarah Yemini expresses views which
closely resemble those of the Israel Communist Party,
particularly regarding the preferential status given to the
Jewish religion in the State of Israel.
The Declaration of Independence provides for
equality among all citizens, without distinction as to race or
religion, she says; "so the position that Judaism holds
in Israel is irregular". The Law of Return should apply
to Palestinian Arabs wanting to return to this country.
"An Arab should be able to be Minister
of Religious Affairs in accordance with the laws of democracy.
Why should the minister who has national responsibility for
all religions including Islam have to be a member of the
"Why can a Druze, who has made his
career in, and reached the highest levels of Tzahal, never
become Chief of Staff?
"Why isn't an Israeli Arab appointed in
charge of Arab affairs within the government? Why isn't there
a single Arab minister or deputy minister in the